180 South Koreans returned home on Sunday, while an estimated 200 others remain in a partitioned section of the departure terminal at the Ben Gurion International Airport outside Tel Aviv.
One of the travelers, John Yang, expressed confidence that the Israeli government and his embassy were working together to resolve the transit issue, and said he wasn’t encountering any problems. He did go on to voice worry over the perceived fear Israelis may have of Koreans, saying he hoped it would not adversely affect the “good friendship” between the two peoples.
Yang’s comments came after 9 pilgrims from his country tested positive for COVID-19 after having visited the Holy Land, when they may have unwittingly spread the disease.
The remaining South Koreans will apparently be stuck at the airport until flights can be arranged. Local media reported that Israeli authorities abandoned a possible plan to quarantine some of the group at a military base close to Mount Gilo outside Jerusalem after complaints from nearby residents. During a protest against the proposed-measure, demonstrators emphasized that their anger was not with the South Korean people – but authorities who had considered the tourists’ relocation.
Gilo resident Rachel Bitan said plaintively that “we know Koreans are a lovely people and this is none of their fault,” but what she called “this crazy idea” to bring the travelers “into the heart of the community.”